25 February 2008

On when to give up

(In a similar vein, see this article, too)

There comes a point when the sensible thing is to give up. The article describes several students who have made that quite rational decision; unfortunately the government does not seem to be capable of acting with similar rationality. Of course, to do so would be to concede that ordinary people are sometimes more sensible than governments, so perhaps their denial is a little more understandable.

The 50% participation figure was plucked out of the air anyway. It was quite a noble if naive aspiration, but it is clearly not going to work, and the money could be spent better elsewhere.

Both this and other educational targets for literacy and numeracy achievement wilfully ignore the bell-curve distribution of abilities within the population. (I say, "abilities" because it goes for athletic ability, and musical talent and even maturity and sunny disposition [sorry, now known as "emotional intelligence"] and good teeth just as much as it does for academic ability.) If that level is seriously low, probably lower than in comparable countries, then by all means try and improve it. You will probably succeed and make quite rapid progress at first. In the current cliche, which is quite accurate and Aesopian, you are "plucking the low-hanging fruit". But then it get more difficult; more and more effort and money is required for less and less gain; the law of diminishing returns has set in. This is the case in all such areas of public policy.

But what started out as emphasising increasing opportunities has become an end in itself, as usual; and the degree, the qualification rather than the learning which led to it, has equally become an end in itself. Just as have improving pass rates for national exams. It is not an ideological point to observe that such obsessions with meeting targets for their own sake must distort the processes they are supposed to improve. They must dumb down.

And the only thing which cannot be pursued for its own sake in this system is education; even the word itself, in a truly Orwellian move, has disappeared from the titles of the government departments supposedly promoting it.

It is time to give up.

1 comment:

  1. If at first you don't succeed it's probably too hard,give up and try something easier
    Simpson,Homer J series 6,episode 5,broadcast june 96,Sky One


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